Sunday, December 8, 2019

Mountain Crest Gardens succulent mail order experience 👍

The wonderful thing about mail order is that it doesn't matter where you are. This is true not only for the buyer but also for the seller. Case in point: Mountain Crest Gardens, one of the bigger players in the online succulent business, is located in the small town of Fort Jones in a remote corner of northwestern California. Real estate is much cheaper there than in urban areas, allowing them to offer their plants at very competitive prices.

Coincidentally, Fort Jones is less than an hour's drive from my mother-in-law's house, and this summer she and I checked out Mountain Crest Gardens in person. Click here to read my post about our visit.

On online rating sites like Trustpilot, Shopper Approved, and Yelp, Mountain Crest Gardens has overwhelmingly positive reviews. Plant friends of mine who've ordered from them have been very pleased, not only with the quality of the plants but also with the packaging. If you think that latter is a trivial matter, you must not have ordered a lot of plants online. While some sellers have mastered the art of packaging plants securely for their arduous journey (Plant Delights and Annie's Annuals come to mind), others think sticking plants and a few wads of newspaper in a box is enough.

I hadn't really planned on ordering anything from Mountain Crest, knowing I'd visit them again in the spring, but when I saw their Black Friday deal—20% off and free shipping on orders over $49—I decided to bite. Better to give my money to a small family-owned business like Mountain Crest Gardens than ordering yet something else from Amazon.

Mountain Crest Gardens processed and shipped my plants in record time. The box arrived less than a week after I'd placed my order.

The first thing I do when I receive plants in the mail: I shake the box. In this case, there was no movement. Very good sign. This is what the inside looked like after I removed the top layer of packing peanuts (the biodegradable kind that dissolves in water):


The box itself can be recycled (duh, it's cardboard), and the materials inside—peanuts and shredded brown paper—can be composted. High marks for that.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Front garden on Black Friday 2019

This is a continuation of my previous post, which was about the renovated bed next to the front door. The photos were taken on Black Friday, the last sunny day before a series of rainstorms that will stretch into the 2nd half of next week. I love the light at this time of year—warm and gentle because of the lower angle of the sun.

The front garden is full of plants that positively glow when lit from the back or the side. This sight, from the walkway that connects the driveway with the front door, makes me feel good about what is otherwise an eclectic hodgepodge of plants:


I'm an unabashed sucker for variegated agaves: Agave sisalana 'Variegata' above and Agave vilmoriniana 'Stained Glass' below (with Yucca queretaroensis next to it):


And I'm a sucker for plants that surprise me:

×Sincoregelia, a hybrid between two bromeliad genera (Sincorea and Neoregelia); the beautiful coloration becomes more intense in cooler temperatures

Outside the fence, along the sidewalk:

Aloe marlothii, Agave weberi 'Arizona Star', Bromelia pinguin

Aloe marlothii pushing an inflorescence 

Eremophila 'Blue Bells' and ×Mangave 'Mission to Mars'

Bromelia pinguin

Two different clones of Aloe dorotheae; the apple green clone never turns red

Continuing around the corner:

Felicia echinata getting ready to bloom, Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt'

A lot happening here!

Salvia bullulata (pale form) from Annie's Annuals; the color is unlike anything I've seen in a flower

I hope the first real frost will hold off a while because it would spell the end of these flowers

×Mangave 'Mayan Queen', my favorite mangave at the moment

Grevillea 'King's Fire', thriving three years after I planted it from a #1 can

Grevillea 'King's Fire'

Agave potatorum 'Cameron Blue'

Agave potatorum 'Cameron Blue'

Agave 'Crazy Horse' (a hybrid between Agave cupreata and Agave asperrima) in front of Eucalyptus gunnii

Giant sea squill (Drimia maritima) in front Euphorbia characias 'Glacier Blue', a good 4 ft. now and one of my favorite shrubby spurges

This is the spot where the accursed Bradford pear used to be. The city finally removed it and ground out the stump, at least enough for me to replant.


The replacement tree is a Santa Cruz Island ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. aspleniifolius), endemic to Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara but growing well in our climate (there's a small grove at the UC Davis Arboretum). 

Other plants include:
  • Agave zebra
  • Aloe africana
  • Aloe distans × comosa
  • Canary Island daisy (Asteriscus sericeus), replanted
  • Coral Canyon twinspur (Diascia integerrima 'Coral Canyon'), replanted
  • Dwarf silver bush (Leucophytum brownii 'Bed Head')
  • Felicia aethiopica 'Tidy Tips'
  • Hesperaloe parviflora 'Sandia Glow'
  • Prostrate blue juniper (Juniperus communis var. saxatilis 'Point George')
  • Saffron buckwheat (Eriogonum crocatum)
  • ×Mangave 'Espresso'

Small Graptoveria 'Fred Ives' colony started with a few cuttings I was given by Hoover Boo (Piece of Eden)

Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), Agave gentryi 'Jaws', Yucca linearifolia, Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica)

Yucca linearifolia and Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica). The calliandra is growing in a Sleeping Beauty-like fashion. I'll cut it back in the spring.

This calliandra never stops blooming. There's not a single day in the year that it's without flowers—no exaggeration. The big aloe is Aloe ferox.

Aloe ferox pushing an inflorescence

Aloe ferox and Agave parrasana

Aloe petricola, with Agave macroacantha in the background

Hechtia argentea, turning red in the colder weather

Hechtia argentea close-up

The eastern end of the bed along the street is looking fairly orderly after I did some early trimming of perennials—and removing the neighborhood's leaf accumulation for the umpteenth time

This is what Aloe 'Erik the Red' typically looks like after a long dry summer. Now that the fall rains have started in earnest, the leaves will plump up quickly.

If, as I'm hoping, the rain will continue to fall gently and nighttime lows will hold in the mid to high 40s, the aloes in the early stages of flowering should make good progress. I'll post updates.



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Saturday, November 30, 2019

Front door succulent bed makeover update (Black Friday 2019)

Black Friday was cool but beautifully sunny. Knowing we're heading into a longer stretch of rain (much needed!), I took advantage of the nice weather to take some photos of the front garden.

We renovated the succulent bed by the front door in late October, and I've been adding some final touches since my original post.

 Peek at the area inside the street-side fence:


The newly overhauled bed is on the left, immediately behind the trio of ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata):


Thursday, November 28, 2019

Holiday book tip: Spiny Succulents by Jeff Moore

Jeff Moore is the owner of Solana Succulents, a brick-and-mortar specialty nursery in the northern San Diego County town of Solana Beach. Jeff's been in business for 27 years and has sold just about every succulent you can imagine. Through the contacts and friendships he's made over the years, he's had access to even the rarest plants. And because he's an avid photographer, he's taken countless pictures.

In 2014, Jeff self-published his first book, Under the Spell of Succulents, an introduction to the huge diversity of succulents found in cultivation. It distilled Jeff's succulent knowledge and his photographic skills into 250 pages and 800 photographs. Sparing no expense in production, Jeff set a new standard for what a self-published book can be.


Not one to rest on his laurels, Jeff released Aloes & Agaves in Cultivation (344 pages, 1000+ photos) in 2016 and Soft Succulents (300 pages, 1000+images) in 2017. Jeff had total control not only over the content but also over the printing, and it shows. These are heavy books, printed on state-of-the-art equipment, and the images are as good as it gets. In my opinion, all three of them are the visually most spectacular succulent books ever published.

Now, just in time for the holidays, comes Jeff's fourth book, Spiny Succulents. It's the logical continuation of the series and focuses on the opposite of “soft succulents:” euphorbias, cacti, terrestrial bromeliads and all kinds of other well-armed dryland plants. Since there is much territory cover, this is the biggest of Jeff's books: 350 pages and 1800+ images (a few by yours truly).

Let's take a look.


Monday, November 25, 2019

Visiting Lotusland — 3

Thanksgiving is just a few days away, and this year I'm thankful that I got to spend time in Lotusland without being tied to a guided tour. Generally, that's the only way to see the gardens unless you have a membership. At the 2019 Bromeliad Summit, we were fortunate to have free roam before and after the day's activities and during breaks.

Here are the other installments of this 3-part series: part 1part 2.

Part 3 starts in the Water Garden, originally the swimming pool of the estate’s second owners. It was built in 1925; the pool house was designed by George Washington Smith, a leading proponent of the Spanish Colonial Revival style that gives much of Santa Barbara its distinctive look. Ganna Walska transformed the swimming pool into a pond and stocked it with Asian lotus, the inspiration for the name “Lotusland.”

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Visiting Lotusland — 2

This is part 2 of my 3-part post about visiting Ganna Walska Lotusland earlier this year. Part 1 left off in dragon tree grove across the front courtyard. Part 2 continues our journey in the oak grove next to the guest house where Ganna Walska chose to live (she used the main house mostly for storage). 

Here, sheltered by the canopy of decades-old oaks, bromeliads like aechmeas and alcantareas thrive on the ground while epiphytes like Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) are suspended from tree branches. Just beyond, the hundreds upon hundreds of columnar cactus that flank the approach to the main house glisten in the sun as if they were made of pure silver.


The sight was so arresting that I found it hard to tear myself away. I wasn't the only one. Even though there are no people in these photos, a group of at least a dozen 2019 Bromeliad Summit participants were standing near me, transfixed by this spectacle.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Visiting Lotusland — 1

Lotusland is one of the top garden attractions in California. Located in a quiet residential area in the upscale community of Montecito just east of Santa Barbara, it's only open from mid-February to mid-November and advance reservations are required (as per city regulations, only a limited number of visitors are allowed per day).

I was lucky to have the opportunity to roam free during the 2019 Bromeliad Summit. I made the most of the time I had available and took hundreds of photos—enough for three posts. This is part 1 of 3.

High drama near the main house

The history of Ganna Walska Lotusland, as it's officially called, is as quirky as the 20 different sections that make up this 37-acre estate. The property was purchased in 1941 by former opera diva and socialite Madame Ganna Walska for $40,000. She originally named it Tibetland with the intention of creating a retreat for Tibetan priests. The priests never came—they were unable to travel to the U.S. because of World War II—and Ganna Walska’s marriage to her 6th husband soon fell apart. Turning her back on men for good, she decided to invest all her energy and her considerable fortune—the spoils of several highly lucrative divorces—into creating a botanical wonderland unlike anything that had ever been seen before.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Death-defying suspension bridge over a raging waterfall

On the last day of our Remembrance Day Vancouver Island road trip we visited Elk Falls Provincial Park near Campbell River on the east coast of the island. Elk Falls itself is beautiful although at 75 ft. not particularly tall.

The real attraction is the metal suspension bridge completed in 2015. I admit, “death-defying” is a bit of an exaggeration—it's not quite Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom—but I look at any suspension bridge with a healthy dose of skepticism. I have a mild fear of heights, and being suspended on a swaying contraption over a gaping maw that looks like instant death does make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up a bit.


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Fairytale forests on Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island is big: 290 miles long and 62 miles wide at its widest point. In terms of surface area, it's the largest island in the Pacific east of New Zealand—about the size of Maryland or, if European comparisons make more sense, the size of Belgium. The vast majority of its 775,000 people live in the population centers along the coast, half of them in the Victoria Metropolitan Area at the southern tip of the island.

While Vancouver Island has one of the mildest climates in Canada and the south and east coast are comparatively dry, the west coast receives enormous amounts of precipitation. In fact, North America's wettest place is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island (Henderson Lake with 261 inches a year).

Large stretches of the island used to be temperate rainforest. However, according to Sierra Club estimates, only 1/5 of the original old-growth rainforest still exists; the rest has been logged or otherwise destroyed. Much of the remaining temperate rainforest is in undeveloped areas with no public roads, but we were able to get a glimpse in several easily accessible places.

The first was in Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park right on Highway 4 near Port Alberni. Cathedral Grove is a remnant of the ancient Douglas fir ecosystem. The largest trees are about 800 years old. If you want to read more, this is a good article.

Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park: this has got to be the most scenic outhouse on Vancouver Island

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Playing tourist on the Pacific side of Vancouver Island

We're visiting daughter #1 in Victoria, British Columbia and are spending Remembrance Day weekend on the west coast of Vancouver Island. This remote and sparsely populated area is as beautiful as it is low key—perfect to unwind.

We're staying in Ucluelet (population 1717) on the edge of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. This wild and undeveloped park is perfect for hiking, sea kayaking and surfing for those so inclined. We're far less motivated in that department; we're happy to let the day take us where it wants and simply enjoy the sights. Every now and then there's nothing better than going with the flow instead of making plans.

This is the view (literally) from our hotel room in Ucluelet: